Dogs at times may behave in peculiar ways and a dog shaking the head side-to-side is certainly something that can appear quite unusual. Something is surely bothering the dog who has no other way to manifest his discomfort than doing what his instinct tells him to do. Spared from the gift of voice, it's our responsibility as owners understanding that something is wrong. Because there are several medical conditions that can cause a dog to shake his head sideways, it's best to see a vet for proper diagnosis and treatment.
An Ear Problem
A dog who is shaking his head side-to-side is possibly feeling some sort of discomfort and this can be localized by the dog's ears. Instinct tells the dog that something is wrong by the ear area, so he does what he can do best, shake his head in hopes of dislodging something to get relief.
The discomfort of the ear may be due to several things such as a foreign material stuck in the dog's ear canal like a plant awn or an insect, but often there may be an underlying infection causing the irritation, perhaps caused by yeast, bacteria or both, suggests veterinarian Dr. Bruce.
If your dog is shaking his head side to side excessively, it's a good idea to see the veterinarian. The vet can take a look to check with an otoscope whether there is something stuck in the dog's ear canalsuch as a foreign body or some pesky parasites such as ear mites and can take a swab if he suspects some sort of infection. Not to mention that all that head shaking can do more harm than good as it can even lead to what is known as "aural hematoma," a visible swelling of the dog's ear due to ruptured blood vessels that fill up the space within the ear flap.
At times, dogs may be shaking their head side-by-side as if saying "no." The head shaking in this case, is not as pronounced as in the side-by-side head shaking seen in dogs with ear problems.
Many times, these head shakes are considered "idiopathic" meaning that a real cause isn't found. The head shaking is often more an annoyance to the owner witnessing them than to the dog.
These head tremors are quite common in boxers and bulldogs, but they can be seen in any dog breeds and mixes. These tremors often turn out not being an issue, but it's best to have the vet assess them. It's a good idea to keep an eye on these tremors, and if they seem to get worse, a neurology work-up may be helpful, explains Doc Paul. Sometimes these tremors may be a form of focal seizure or some sort of abnormality of the trigeminal nerve.
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Boxer with idiopathic head tremors shaking head side-to-side
At the Vet's Office
Spared from the ability to talk, dogs manifest pain and discomfort in various ways, and it may be sometimes difficult to pinpoint the problem. For instance, sometimes dogs may shake their head side-to-side when they are having some type of pain located in their face or mouth or when they are having an allergic reaction. In this latter case, there may be facial swelling and the dog may even vomit and this can be a sign of a medical emergency.
In some other instances, head shaking may be a sign of a partial seizure or it can a symptom of vestibular disease where the dog may also appear wobbly and walk around in drunk-like manner.
Head shaking at times may also be due to exposure to something toxic. Veterinarian Dr. Marie claims to have seen dogs undergo tremors after eating mushrooms that were toxic. As always, best to see the vet to pinpoint the exact problems behind side-to-side head shaking in dogs.
If the episodes happen quite frequently it can be very helpful to record them on tape and show them to the vet. A video is worth 100 words when describing a behavior and the vet can better assess the situation this way. It is also helpful to also keep a log on when it happens, time of the day, how long the episode lasts and what the dog was doing prior to the episode.
The vet will review the videos and logs and will collect a thorough history gathering other information such as what the dog eats, if there are any chances the dog ingested something toxic, and so on.
The vet will conduct a physical exam. If an ear problem is suspected, he will check with otoscope. In some cases, the vet may feel the need to sedate and look deep into the ear canal. If there are signs of a foreign item, it will be removed, while ear infections, are often treated with antibiotics or antifungal medications.
If the vet suspects a neurological issue he or she will perform some basic neurology tests. The vet may also request bloodwork and urine samples to rule out possible underlying medical conditions. A referral to a neurologist may be needed for complicated cases or cases that seem to be worsening over time.